Over the past several years, there has been a significant boom in the world of nature documentaries, largely thanks to the advent of high definition, arguably what I think the high definition format was created for, poetically speaking.
Sure, the majority of us grew up watching fuzzy episodes of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom growing up, but even then we were hoping to get up close to the millions of wild species out there, and see them in the most vivid detail available.
Such viewers need wait no longer, with the rise in popularity of the BBC’s incredibly prolific division “BBC Earth”, more formally known as the BBC Natural History Unit. For the past few decades, this unit has produced some of the most interesting nature documentaries spanning the globe, the most recent of which is Frozen Planet, which explores both wildlife and landscape, on both of our planet’s opposite poles.
What is Frozen Planet All About?
Well, if you’ve been watching the last several BBC Earth productions, such as the best-selling Blu-ray Planet Earth, you’ve probably been briefly introduced to the harsh conditions which exist in both the Arctic and Antarctic, and been made aware of the animal life there, and the dangers they confront in the face of slow global warming.
Frozen Planet goes one step further, and helps viewers learn more about the fauna above and below the ice shelf, through almost uninhabitable terrain, the last untouched regions of our planet.
The first of the seven episodes, “To the Ends of the Earth”, takes us on a quick panorama of what lies ahead in later chapters, taking us under the Antarctic ice membrane, as well as way up North, where a variety of land creatures and birds migrate each season.
Narrator David Attenborough, known for his dulcet tones as the voice of most BBC Earth documentaries, makes an on-camera appearance, standing at both geographic poles, dressed warmly and ready to educate. It’s a real treat to see the aging host make the effort to appear on site, if only to add to the sense of camaraderie he already shares with the audience.
Note to collectors, this review copy is the original UK version, and not the one recently publicized as being narrated by Alec Baldwin. Nonetheless, the content is pretty much the same, and the high definition images are simply breathtaking.
While I’d recommend this as mandatory viewing for school kids of all ages, be warned that there are some predatory scenes, namely one involving a pod of orcas as they systematically wear down a seal, so to drown it and eat it as lunch. Not exactly horrific material, but rather a potential opportunity to teach your young ones about the facts of life, as inferred in their favorite film The Lion King.
Indeed, this series throws every species at the screen (figuratively, of course), with everyone from penguins to sea lions to killer whales to humpbacks, not to mention some never before filmed species living in sub-zero temperatures under the Antarctic shelf. I anticipate your enjoyment.
What is Born to Be Wild About?
While this much shorter, warmer piece isn’t produced by the BBC unit, it strongly resembles its spirit and editing style. Produced by Warner Brothers, narrated by Morgan Freeman and originally shown on IMAX screens last year, Born to Be Wild follows two similar yet diametrically opposed stories, which take place thousands of miles from one another, but both focusing on the urgent need for nurturing young orphan creatures who have been displaced by man-made changes or poaching.
The first of the two stories examines the life of Daphne Sheldrick, a Kenyan native who has spent the majority of her adult life looking after baby elephants who are left orphaned due to the hunting of their parents, and who cannot survive without the vital mother’s milk they need to achieve adulthood.
As we explore the wildlife reserve she runs with her two daughters and a team of handlers, we discover the incredible bonding which occurs between handler and infant, with much emphasis put on the young elephants’ innate gift for memory and learning.
Meanwhile, a few thousand miles East in Indonesia, a similar project is taking place. Birute Galdikas, a Canadian-born Indonesian citizen, runs a preserve where orphaned orangutans get a chance to develop their climbing and survival skills, before being sent back to the jungle to live the way they would have, had their parents not been killed accidentally due to vicious deforestation.
This segment is particularly touching because of the almost human-like behavior these baby orangutans display, as well as the emotional bonds they develop with their caretakers. Further reading has led me to learn that Galdikas is one third of what is called the “Trimate”, with the other two leading female researchers being Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey.
It is incredibly heartwarming to see these women spend their lives ensuring these young orphaned creatures — primate or pachyderm –get a fighting chance to survive in the wild, whereas they would surely have otherwise perished.
The Final Word on Frozen Planet and Born to Be Wild Blu-Rays
What else is there to say? Aside from the incredibly clear picture quality which make any and all documentaries worth rediscovering, there is an insane amount of information worth learning here. I could only hope that governments would see to it that schools would own copies of these and other documentaries, if only to help future generations appreciate the dwindling diversity our planet offers, but is slowly disappearing due to man made damage done to the environment.